Keep Choosing God: a word from Henri Nouwen

Over the past month I have been reading Henri Nouwen’s book The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. This is one of Nouwen’s most personal books, taken from his journals during a time of great challenge and even depression in his life. I really appreciated the entire book, which struck a chord for me in what has been an extended challenging season for me as a pastor navigating through the pandemic, racial and political tensions, and various other things. The last entry in the book is titled “Keep Choosing God.” It was a wonderful conclusion to the book that I found very meaningful. I share it here in its entirety in hopes that it will be encouraging to you as well.

You are constantly facing choices. The question is whether you choose for God or for your own doubting self. You know what the right choice is but your emotions, passions, and feelings keep suggesting you choose the self-rejecting way.

The root choice is to trust at all times that God is with you and will give you what you most need. Your self-rejecting emotions might say, ‘It isn’t going to work. I’m still suffering the same anguish I did six months ago. I will probably fall back into the old depressive patterns of acting and reacting. I haven’t really changed.’ And on and on. It is hard not to listen to these voices. Still, you know that these are not God’s voice. God says to you, ‘I love you, I am with you, I want to see you come closer to me and experience the joy and peace of my presence. I want to give you a new heart and a new spirit. I want you to speak with my mouth, see with my eyes, here with my ears, touch with my hands. All that is mine is yours. Just trust me and let me be your God.’

This is the voice to listen to. And that listening requires a real choice, not just once in a while but every moment of each day and night. It is you who decides what you think, say, and do. You can think yourself into a depression, you can talk yourself into low self-esteem, you can act in a self-rejecting way. But you always have a choice to think, speak, and act in the name of God and so move toward the Light, the Truth, and the Life.

As you conclude this period of spiritual renewal, you are faced once again with a choice. You can choose to remember this time as a failed attempt to be completely reborn, or you can also choose to remember it as the precious time when God began new things in you that need to be brought to completion. Your future depends on how you decide to remember your past. Choose for the truth of what you know. Do not let your still anxious emotions distract you. As you keep choosing God, your emotions will gradually give up the rebellion and be converted to the truth in you.

You are facing a real spiritual battle. But do not be afraid. You are not alone. Those who have guided you during this period are not leaving you. Their prayers and support will be with you wherever you go. Keep them close to your heart so that they can guide you as you make your choices.

Remember, you are held safe. You are loved. You are protected. You are in communion with God and with those whom God has sent you. What is of God will last. It belongs to the eternal life. Choose it, and it will be yours.

Henri Nouwen, “Keep Choosing God,” from The Inner Voice of Love (New York: Image Books, 1998), 113-115.

A Prayer to God for Help

“Many, Lord, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’
Let the light of your face shine on us.
Fill my heart with joy
when their grain and new wine abound.
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:6-8, NIV)

“At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together.” (Psalm 4:8, MSG)

O LORD, when troubles gather round me
(and they never fail to come),
You are the One I turn to for help
for Your help is always the best available.

When waves whip up around my life,
which seems like a boat helplessly tossed at sea in a storm,
You are the One who speaks peace
and brings calm no matter the circumstances.

You are the source of all my joys
in the best and brightest times,
and You are the bringer of true comfort
in the dire and dark days.

I love knowing You and walking with You.
In every day and every year, keep me close
that I might walk on Your road all my life.

James Weldon Johnson, “The Creation” [Poetry for Ordinary Time]

I’ve enjoyed posting poetry series themed around the Christian year in the past couple of years (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter“). I will continue that with a series called “Poetry for Ordinary Time.” Ordinary time includes two sections of the church year between Christmastide and Lent and Easter and Advent. The word “ordinary” here derives from the word ordinal by which the weeks are counted. Still, ordinary time does serve an opportunity to embrace the ordinary spaces and places of our lives, and the themes of the poems will express this.

Here is James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Creation” from God’s Trombones. Johnson was a twentieth century American  poet and civil rights activist, perhaps best known for co-authoring (with his brother) the well-known song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the black national anthem.


And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!

Then God himself stepped down—
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas—
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed—
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen.      Amen.


Previous poems in this series:

Christian Wiman, “Every Riven Thing” [Poetry for Easter]

Each week during Eastertide I am posting a poem that helps me engage more meaningfully with Jesus’ resurrection. Here is Christian Wiman’s poem “Every Riven Thing,” which is from Every Riven Thing (2011). Christian Wiman is a contemporary poet and essayist who edited Poetry (2003-2013) and serves at Yale Divinity School as Professor of the Practice of Religion and Literature.


God goes, belonging to every riven thing He’s made
Sing his being simply by being
The thing it is:
Stone and tree and sky,
Man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing He’s made,
Means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
Trying to will himself into the stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing He’s made
There is given one shade
Shaped exactly to the thing itself:
Under the tree a darker tree;
Under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
The things that bring Him near,
Made the mind that makes Him go.
A part of what man knows,
Apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing He’s made.


Previous poems in this series:

George Herbert, “Easter Wings”

Denise Levertov, “On Belief in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus

Li-Young Lee, “Nativity” [Poetry for Lent]

Poetry for Lent 2.001

Every Thursday during Lent, I post a poem that I find helpful for deeper engagement with Jesus’ journey to the Cross and the significance of Lent. Here is Li-Young Lee’s poem “Nativity” from Book of My Nights. Born to Chinese political exiles in Indonesia, Li-Young Lee was later educated in the United States and has written several collections of poetry.


In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world?
just to hear his sister
promise, An unfinished wing of heaven,
just to hear his brother say,
A house inside a house,
but most of all to hear his mother answer,
One more song, then you go to sleep.

How could anyone in that bed guess
the question finds its beginning
in the answer long growing
inside the one who asked, that restless boy,
the night’s darling?

Later, a man lying awake,
he might ask it again,
just to hear the silence
charge him, This night
arching over your sleepless wondering,

this night, the near ground
every reaching-out-to overreaches,

just to remind himself
out of what little earth and duration,
out of what immense good-bye,

each must make a safe place of his heart,
before so strange and wild a guest
as God approaches.


Previous poems in this series:

John Donne, ‘Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness”

Langston Hughes, “The Ballad of Mary’s Son”

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day”

Luci Shaw, “Judas, Peter”